It is believed that the first Europeans to travel the land that is now Indiana were French fur traders and explorers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They established profitable trade relationships with the Native Americans, and it was not uncommon for the French traders to intermarry with the local tribes. In fact, the last principal chief of the unified Miami tribe, Francis La Fontaine (or 'Topeah' in his native tongue) had a French grandfather by the name of Peter LaFontaine.
After the British took control of the region in the 1760s, they renamed many of the settlements and landscape features, but the French influence remained in a few place names. Terre Haute is French for 'high land.' LaPorte is French for 'the door,' and is said to have been named so by French explorers due to the area's natural opening out of the dense tree cover of indigenous forests. The city of Vincennes, in southwestern Indiana, was established in 1732 and is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in Indiana. Small groups of French immigrants continued to arrive in Indiana in the 19th century, as well. According to U.S. Census data, in 1850, French immigrants were living in 66 Indiana counties, and many Indiana counties were also home to Canadian immigrants who traced their ancestry back to France.
For this program, we had several stations set up with crafts, games, and activities relating to French heritage and history in Indiana.
We had a history station, where I had this map of New France in 1750 (source), along with copies (and translations) of French fur trading contracts, the originals of which are located in the Indiana Historical Society's collections. I also had a world atlas out, so kids could find France on a map and see its proximity in the world with respect to North America.
©2017, Emily Kowalski Schroeder